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October 2005
SELF Off-Grid Living



A Rebel Wolf Energy Systems Publication
October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 1


2 From the Editor’s Laptop

3 Command Center Upgrade

(our Editor needs a Command Center?)

5 Off-Grid Camping
Steve Spence at his Leisure

7 Biogas Power for Families

New Author! Hemant Thite

9 Solar Energy Production

Backwoods Solar Electric Systems

12 Summer on Šipan
September – Almost Time to Leave

15 The Wind Bag

Letters to Dan Fink

18 Al Rutan – The Methane Man

Even More on Methane

21 Starting Your Own Fruit Trees

by Tom Ogren

24 Making Ethanol for Fuel

Distillation Equipment

27 Classified Ads

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 2

From The Editor’s Laptop

by Larry D. Barr, Editor
It’s Time To Get Serious
The landfall of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast of the people who are solving a problem for themselves, and by ex-
United States was a demonstration of the utter inability of tension, for mankind.. Those developments may be later
man’s devisings to resist the fury of Mother Nature. The re- adopted by the mainstream, but we are the nucleus, the
building process will be ongoing for months, if not years. But sourcepoint, for new developments that are accessible to all.
the effects on life in the US may last for years.
I encourage you, I challenge you, to put your creative mind to
One of the immediate effects was the almost overnight in- work. Select a problem that irks you, and work on a solution.
crease in petroleum fuel prices. The arguments are raging Together we, a dedicated group of renewable energy believ-
and accusations are flying over whether the price increase is ers, can make a difference.
justified. Conspiracy theorists are coming from all points of
the compass and the pro- and anti-government factions are at Continued on next page
each other’s throats. Let ‘em have at it. That’s not why we’re

The purpose of this publication is to help you, our readers,

learn about renewable energy sources and utilization. So, let’s
talk for a few minutes about what RE can do to mitigate the
increase in fuel costs and, very possibly, future fuel availabil-

I believe that this event may serve to increase interest and Energy Self Sufficiency
acceptance of RE technologies that, until now, have not gar- Newsletter
nered wide-spread use. I speak of Neighborhood Electric
Vehicles (NEVs), diesel or biodiesel/electric hybrids and PV Editor/Publisher
augmented electric vehicles. A friend in Ireland suggested a Larry D. Barr
PV augmented hybrid with the internal combustion engine Contributing Editors
powered by ethanol. As he said, “It’ll run on either sunshine Maria (Mark)Alovert
or moonshine.” Al Rutan (RIP)
Steve Spence
We must – and I don’t mean “we” as mankind, I mean “we” Mike Nixon
as folks devoted to renewable energy – be open to the devel- Jerry Dycus
opment and adoption of technologies that big business is ig- Laren Corie
noring. If you have an idea for something new, or a combina- Tom Ogren
tion of a couple old things, I encourage you to give it a try. Go Kelly Boyd
out back to your shop and prototype it. Don’t have a shop? Bryan Ball
Find a couple of friends to work with you on the project, and Dan Fink
make your dream a reality. Graphic Artist
Aaron W. Cagle
Whether your idea is a new type of drive system for a vehicle, Advertising Director
a high mileage modification for an existing engine, or simply a Steve Spence
way of cutting down consumption of energy in the home, this
is the time to bring that idea to fruition. The great concepts of All contents © 2005
the future will not be developed by major corporations and Rebel Wolf Energy Systems
giant think tanks. They will be brought to reality by dedicated

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 3

Command Center Update

In our August issue, I told you of my plans to convert my two- The desk holds a laptop computer, printer, 9” TV/DVD, USB
level desk to operate on either 120 VAC or 12 VDC. All the HDD, speakers (w/sub), router, DSL modem and 2 meter
components I ordered have now arrived, and I’ll be able to ham radio. All except the router, speakers and the modem will
get underway in a couple of weeks, being fortunate that Hur- operate on native 12 VDC. Those units will be powered by a
ricane Rita had collapsed before it reached us here in 300 watt MSW inverter from Marlin P. Jones and Associates
Stephenville. (turn the page to see a pic of it and all the other components I
have now received).
Just to recap, the project will provide PV power from two
Uni-Solar US-64 panels to maintain a 100 AH AGM It’s time to get serious. It’s time for all of us renewable en-
PowerSonic battery which will power all the devices on the ergy ‘fanatics’ to cut our creativity loose. Jump right in there
desk. The 12 VDC power will be distributed to the end-use and do something to minimize the energy usage at your home.
devices by a West Mountain RigRunner 4012. In the event Devise a way to increase the fuel mileage you get, or come
that the PV panels can’t maintain a full charge to the battery, up with something entirely new to help wean us all away from
a 40 amp power supply from Circuit Specialists will take up fossil fuels. Whatever it is, get creative and help make a dif-
the slack and will also charge the battery through a West ference.
Mountain SuperPWRGate transfer switch/charger. The West
Mountain equipment and the Anderson PowerPoles I’ll be Peace,
using for the connections are available from Powerwerx. ldb

Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter is published Circulation Info

monthly online at The pub-
lication is free and unlimited printing and distri- ESSN exceeds 23,500 downloads!
bution is encouraged for the benefit of the re- Monthly circulation of ESSN, measured by downloads
newable energy community. All contents are of the PDF and HTML files, continues to rise and now
Copyright 2005 by Rebel Wolf Energy Systems. stands at over 23,500!!! As the word of our existence
Please contact us for reprint permission. All spreads, and our content increases, we will continue to
printed copies and electronic distribution must share our experiences (and yours) in off-grid living and
contain the entire publication including this no- energy self-sufficiency with folks around the world.
tice. Thanks for your interest and your support. ldb
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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 4

40 amp @ 13.8 VDC power supply from Circuit Specialists. This unit
will not only power the desk under AC operation, but will also main-
tain the battery in a fully charged state via the West Mountain
SuperPWRGate. Atop the power supply is the small 300 watt MSW
inverter from MPJA that will power the AC devices on the desk.

Trace C12 PV charge controller from Backwoods Solar for the pair of
Uni-Solar US-64 amorphous solar modules (Affordable Solar) (not
shown) that will charge the battery under good solar conditions.

Yaesu FT-2800M 2 Meter amateur

radio transceiver from Universal
Radio that will alternate between
desk duty and mobile service. Max
current draw of the transceiver
when transmitting at 65 watts out-
put power is 15 amps. I’ll use the
minimum transmit power necessary
Shown in the left rear is the West Mountain SuperPWRGate unit both to conserve energy and to
that functions as both a transfer switch between the power supply comply with FCC regs.
and the battery and also is a 3-stage (bulk, absorption, float) battery
charger. The West Mountain RigRunner 4012 DC distribution panel
is shown in the right rear of the photo. The RigRunner provides a Power-Sonic PS-121000 100 amp-
fused outlet for each device up to a total load current of 40 amps. In hour sealed AGM type battery
the foreground are 25 pairs of Anderson PowerPole 30 amp connec- from Mouser which will power
tors and four Velcro™ cable organizers. The connectors and cable the desk during power outages
ties are included with the 4012S “starter kit” from Powerwerx, as is 25 and when the battery can be
feet of #12 AWG red/black zip cord. maintained by the PV panels.

Well, I now have all the components I need to start the Command Center project. Looks like it’s time for me to get to work.
The construction saga and on-going pictures will be in future issues of ESSN. Peace, ldb
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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 5

By Steve Spence

Last week, we finally embarked on a much needed vacation. We also took along our Camp Chef propane stove, but did
It’s been a few years, but we packed up the tents and sup- most of our cooking in a Dutch oven over a wood fire. The
plies, and headed into the woods. Many folks think of camp- wood was scrap wood courtesy of a local log and lumber
ing in terms of motor homes, trailers, electric and water hook- company. We cooked a variety of items in the Dutch oven,
ups, and some even have cable tv. That’s not our scene. including pineapple upside-down cake (need to work on that
one), Chili (best ever), spaghetti, plus boiling water for
Now, that’s not to say we didn’t take a long a bit of technol- washing dishes. I brought my green tea bags and coffee
ogy with us. We hauled in water, and generated a bit of elec- bags for that morning pick-me-up.
tric for the cooler and lights. We do like to keep meat and
drinks refrigerated, so we brought along a subset of our re-
newable energy system, consisting of a Peltier equipped 40
quart Coleman cooler, a 115AH deep cycle battery, a 750
watt inverter, and a 40 amp charger (vehicle powered) to
recharge the battery occasionally. This kept the cooler in the
low 40’s most of the time.

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 6

The three boys (my two plus a friend) shared a tent, the Wife
and I had ours a ways away from theirs. We don’t appreciate
late night pillow fights like we did when we were younger.

The kids enjoyed fishing and swimming in the river, and hiking
the Appalachian Trail, including a hike up the local 1167 ft
mountain. I used to hike Mt. Marcy a lot as a teen, but that
was 20 years and 60 lbs. ago. I made it, but it hurt ;-)

The weather was mild, no rain, and day temps hit the mid
70’s, night temps in the mid 50’s, and fairly bug free. With
numerous games of Chicken Foot (dominoes), Scrabble, etc.,
it was a good time together as a family.

Steve hard at work preparing for the next edition of ESSN

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 7


By Hemant Thite

What’s this all about? What size genset do you need?

As Al Rutan has shown in previous articles in ESSN, biogas is Take a look at your current electricity bills. Find out the daily
an extremely important part of off-grid living. A biogas plant power consumption. If you are consuming 20KWhr per day,
is basically an anaerobic digestor, having millions of micro- then you need a 5KW genset running for 4 hours or a 2KW
organisms digesting organic matter and generating biogas. You genset running for 10hrs. A battery pack will be needed to
rarely get so many workers toiling for you in return for just store power. Talk to your local genset supplier.
Choosing your biogas plant
A biogas plant can be used to digest agricultural residues, Biogas plants come in two main designs, the fixed dome and
animal manures, kitchen-waste and sewage. Biogas is very the floating drum. Also, depending on feeding patterns, they
popular in developing countries as a source of fuel for cook- are either batch-fed or continuously fed. Batch fed biogas
ing. These are small units, and generate just a few cubic meters plants are fed once every few months, and continuous plants
of biogas every day, providing enough cooking gas for a whole are fed on a more frequent basis, like once a day, twice a
family. Portable generators, or ‘gensets’, can also be run week, etc. Biogas plants running on animal manures are in-
entirely on biogas, providing from 400-5000 watts electrical variably the continuous type as it is impossible to store such
power, enabling families to utilise this energy for many other manures for any length of time.
applications in the home. At the other end of the scale, big
farms with large numbers of cattle, as in Europe and USA,
install biogas plants to neatly convert the large quantity of
animal manure produced into biogas that can be usefully used
for both power generation and heating.

Biogas consists of 65% methane and 35% carbon dioxide,

with traces of water vapour, hydrogen sulphide and ammonia.
It’s flammable, with about 70% the calorific value of natural
gas, but is corrosive, so proper care should be taken while
handling it.

A continuous biogas plant

Gensets consume about 0.5-0.9m3 of biogas to generate each

KWhr. So, if you have a 2KW genset, it will consume about
1.2m3 biogas each hour. So, if you run it for 10 hours then you
Portable generator set – a ‘genset’ will need 12m3 of biogas – the amount of gas generated by
A portable genset can be used for power generation. Portable the fresh manure of about 20 cows.
gensets are available from 400watts –5000watts. These are
Internal Combustion (IC), Spark Ignition (SI), Gasoline en- In places where the temperature drops below 5°C (40°F) in
gines in range 1.4 –8HP. These gensets are available in AC/ winter, then about 20% of the gas generated will be needed
DC, 50Hz/60Hz and 110V/230V options. A genset running on for heating the digestor and maintaining the digesting material
propane gas or natural gas is used for running on biogas. at about 35°C (95°F-100°F).
Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 8

Guidelines for selecting a site for biogas plant and designs

should be available at local renewable energy agencies. Add
a few m3 of extra capacity for getting cooking gas and gas for
heating water.

Costs About The Author: Hemant Thite

Biogas plants will cost between $150-200/m3 depending on

their size and material of construction. Government grants
and loans are available in most places for construction The
genset will cost between $700-1500. Other components you
will need are monitoring equipment, like a gas meter, pressure
meter, flowmeter, KWhr meter, current meter, and a voltage
meter. A pH meter and thermometer will also be required to
monitor the digestion in biogas plant.
Sustainability has always attracted me, and before working
Operations on energy I was a organic farming consultant. Biogas attracted
me for its simplicity and predictability. I have degree in Phys-
The portable genset should always be started on gasoline, and ics, and have conducted various experiments on biogas gen-
then run for a minute on gasoline before switching over to eration from grains and deoiled cakes. Currently I am fo-
biogas. Once it has warmed up, the engine will run entirely on cussed on small scale power generation, designing and install-
biogas. The gas consumption of gasoline engines is about 60% ing biogas energy systems through my firm Calorees.
that of diesel dual-fuel engines, so you get more power out of
biogas using gasoline engines. The genset should be switched Contact me at
to gasoline mode while shutting down as this helps in flushing Visit:
the engine of biogas.


The 400watts-5000watts power range is ideally suited to indi-

vidual homes for supplying primary or backup power. Power
can be generated in sub-urban areas, farms, remote villages,
small hamlets,etc. The power is enough for lighting, running
kitchen appliances and entertainment systems. When the
genset consumes few m3 of biogas, every one should try to
install small biogas plants and generate their own power.
I am installing two similar systems in India. Both have 6m
biogas plants and a 2KW genset generating 12KWhr/day. The
genset will run for 6hrs everyday. Biogas will be generated
from deoiled cake of Jatropha and Pongamia.

Biogas is an important renewable energy source as it is pre-

dictable, site-independent and provides enough power for con-
sumption. Alternative energy systems can be simple, cost-
effective and sufficient. Let biogas take us one step closer to

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 9

A technical overview of the equipment used in a solar electric system
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of
Backwoods Solar Electric Systems

To select a solar electric system for your home or RV, you should know what the major parts are called, what each one is
for, and how they work together. We hope that this quick overview show how this can be done.


Sun shining on solar modules produces DIRECT CURRENT from the generator producing low voltage DC to charge the
electricity, or DC, the only kind of power stored in batteries. battery. The generator is shut down after the batteries have
Often this is 12 volt DC, the standard used in cars and RVs. been recharged. This process is automated in some power
Larger systems may be designed for 24 volt DC, or some- systems. (Battery chargers in Recreational Vehicles are called
times 48 volt DC. This just means combining the same solar converters).
modules in pairs for 24 volt, or groups of four to get 48 volt.
Windmills and micro-hydro generators in this catalog also pro- THE HARDWARE
duce DC for charging batteries.

This DC power is stored in DEEP CYCLE LEAD-ACID

BATTERIES, which give back the electricity as needed, even
when no power is being produced. Like a bank account, power
put into batteries over a period of time can be taken out more
quickly if a lot is needed. Like a bank account you cannot
take out more than you put in, or the account will be depleted.
Moreover, lead-acid batteries need to be frequently 100% fully
charged to remain in good condition. They should never be
drawn completely down to empty. Because of these needs, to
get the most years from your batteries requires some supervi-
sion by the owner.
Drawing courtesy of Solar Electric Independent Home Book

The INVERTER is a major component that converts the 12, SOLAR MODULES
24, or 48 volt DC current from the battery into 120 volt AC
current, the same as utility power for standard household lights, These are installed in groups of one to 12 modules on a solar
outlets, and appliances. Most solar homes use primarily 120 mount, which in turn attaches to a building, to the roof of an
volt AC produced by the inverter. A few DC circuits are usu- RV, or atop a metal post in the yard. Together this is called a
ally added where using DC can save a lot of energy. Some- solar array. Each solar module is wired to the other modules
times a small solar electric RV, boat, or cabin may have no in that array by sunlight tolerant solar interconnect wiring.
inverter, and use only DC wiring and appliances. Several arrays may be wired to a solar combiner box where
they are all connected to heavier underground wires taking
If there are a number of consecutive days without sunshine, the power to the battery and equipment room.
the owner, being aware of the weather, checks his batteries.
If the charge level is low, an engine driven generator may be A solar electric module works like a car battery charger...
started to recharge the batteries in order to keep the whole Except instead of plugging it into the wall, you put it out in the
system working. A battery charger plugs into 120 volt AC sun.
Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 10

PHOTO-VOLTAIC or solar cells convert sunlight directly

to electricity within wafer thin cells. Light “particles” called
photons actually bounce electrons across a barrier, creating
an electrical current. About 36 cells are built into a 4 to 12
square foot solar module. Cells are sealed within a tough resin
between a tempered glass front and plastic or foil backing,
then framed in aluminum rail. There are many sizes and brands
of modules, at similar prices, specifications, and claims. New
brands come each year, many as good as, but none better
than, the proven reliable brands listed in the next pages. Con-
sidering cost and length of module lifetime and warranty, we
stock the longest tested and most respected brands.

DIRECT SUNSHINE with no shadows is absolutely nec-

essary for full power. Partial power is produced on overcast
days, but any shadows falling directly on a solar module will
reduce power, regardless of what some advertisements claim.

DURABILITY: First used 40 years ago for space satellites,

modules of that vintage still operate unless the glass has been BATTERIES receive and
broken or water has entered the seals. Life expectancy of store DC electrical energy, and
solar modules is over 30 years. Most photovoltaic modules can instantly supply large surges
come with a 20 to 25 year warranty on power output and may of stored electricity as needed
last a lifetime. to start or run heavy power ap-
pliances that the solar panels or
THE AMOUNT OF POWER a solar array produces de- hydro electric generator alone
pends on the number of modules you use and the number of could not power. This large
daily sunshine hours in your climate. Overcast days with only power capability can be a fire
half normal brightness give half of normal power. Some cli- hazard just like utility company
mates allow much more power in summer than winter. Solar power, so fuses and circuit
modules can easily be added to your array to increase power breakers on every circuit connected to a battery are essen-
as your needs grow. Modules are rated by volts, watts, and tial. Battery size is chosen for both surge power requirements
amps. The AMP rating is the best indicator of the charging and for the amount of reserve power needed. Typically, 2 to
you get and is what you will see on your meter during ideal 12 square feet of batteries weighing 200 to 1000 pounds are
sun conditions. enclosed in a battery box with a vent pipe to outside. This
component contains both acid and a great deal of stored en-
A CHARGE CONTROL- ergy, therefore requires care and knowledge to safely install.
LER, sometimes called a
charge regulator, is a small The INVERTER is the
wall mounted unit receiving the major electronic component
power from solar, wind, or mi- of a power system. It con-
cro-hydro generators, and con- verts DC power stored in
trolling the flow of power to the batteries to 120 volt AC,
battery. To prevent battery dam- standard household power.
age from overcharging, the Short, heavy cables with a
charge control automatically cuts large fuse or circuit breaker carry battery power to the in-
back or stops the charge when verter. After conversion to AC, power from the inverter con-
batteries become full. A charge nects into the circuit breaker box of the house in place of
control may have manual con- utility lines. The house breaker box routes power to lights,
trol switches and may have appliances, and outlets of the house. Inverters for home power
meters or lights to show the sta- come in ratings from 50 to 5500 watts.
tus of the charging process. Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 11

A STANDBY INVERTER/CHARGER is an inverter that METERS, like the gas and tempera-
also has a battery charger and transfer relay built in. When ture gauges in a car, are necessary to
the input terminals of a standby inverter/charger receive power show everything is working. Solar
from an outside source of AC (a generator or utility power) charge indicating meters are often
the inverter stops producing AC power from the batteries, built in the charge control to confirm
and instead passes generator or utility AC power straight the charging process instantly. Other
through to the house. At the same time it uses the generator meters show how much power is be-
or utility power to recharge the batteries. Some standby in- ing consumed, and confirm how much
verters even auto-start the generator when batteries need power is available. These battery system monitors can be
charging. A separate battery charger can be used instead of located in the power room, or at a convenient spot in the home
(or in addition to) a standby inverter/charger. for easier checking.

An ENGINE GENERATOR producing 120 volt AC power A POWERCENTER is a combination product including sys-
is usually part of the tem meters, DC circuit breakers, and wiring connections for
system. This is a sec- batteries, inverter, solar and other charging sources.
ond source of AC Powercenters are easier to install and to pass building codes
power and a backup than selecting, buying, and installing all those parts separately.
for charging the bat- The power room is simplified, with just a few main compo-
tery when there is a nents: powercenter with charge control attached, an in-
shortfall in solar or verter with standy-charger, and the battery box on the
wind power, a tempo- floor. Some powercenters, like the Outback PS-2, are shipped
rary need for additional as a completely assembled power system.
power for construction or visitors, or in case of breakdown of
other equipment. Just starting the generator begins the standby Backwoods Solar Electric Systems
inverter charging process. The best generators start by push- 1589 Rapid Lightning Creek Rd
button from the house. Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 USA
Phone: 208-263-4290
Fax: 208-265-4788
A generator is located outside, usually in its own shed at least e-mail:
30 feet away to avoid noise. For reasons of health and safety,
it cannot go in a basement. 120 volt AC power from the gen- Steve and Elizabeth Willey started BACKWOODS SOLAR ELECTRIC
erator goes through a circuit breaker, then is wired into the SYSTEMS as a home based business in 1978, after successfully
pioneering the use of photovoltaics for their own mountain home, two
power room to run battery charger/s as well as supply the AC
miles from utility lines. As of June 11th, 2004, Steve and Elizabeth have
power to the house whenever the generator runs. Since the retired but their current employees continue to operate the business for a
battery charger and AC transfer relay is usually part of a new owner who intends to maintain the Backwoods Solar that our
standby inverter, the generator power usually connects only customers know! As one of the major mail order renewable energy
to the AC INPUT terminals of the inverter, not to the house businesses, Backwoods Solar Electric once operated from a remote
mountain-top property. Both home and business were 100% powered
breaker box. by the time tested equipment described in their catalog: 85% by the sun,
with wind and back-up generator covering the balance in snowy winter
A few special lower cost generators are made to produce months. As of mid-August 2004, Backwoods moved out of Steve and
only battery charging DC voltage instead of AC. These send Elizabeth’s home and relocated to a facility just a couple miles down the
DC power directly to the battery.
You are invited to visit them at their web site
essary in all DC wiring between the batteries
and other power system components described,
but are not shown in the drawing. This prevents
fires and equipment damage in event of a mal-
function. Breakers might each be a separate
component, or might be built into a powercenter. In contrast,
the AC breaker box for household wiring is part of the house
wiring, not usually included with power generating equipment.

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 12

Suzanne Ubick

I got the family house to myself on Another experiment I tried was to take
August 30. This gave me the chance a dark brown enamel pot, line it with
to experiment with matching off-grid aluminium foil, place a smaller enamel
living techniques with on-grid realities. pot inside it, cover that with a dark
So I switched off the water boilers – metal lid, and then cover the bigger
the big one in the bathroom and the pot with a glass lid. Somewhat to my
small one in the kitchen, and the auto- disbelief, it worked. It really truly
matic washing machine. worked. And I’d given it a toughie:

Left running on grid:

• The upright fridge/freezer. whole wheat grains, cov-
• My laptop and camera charger. ered with tap temperature
• Lights. I avoided using the overhead lights; there are water. I put this outside at
some weird floor lamps here which seem to have noon, and when I checked
some kind of LED bulb. I had one between my bed it at 6pm, those grains were
and my desk, serving both. On the dining table, I had soft and tender.
a desk lamp with the same kind of bulb. And in the
kitchen, there’s a fluorescent tube mounted above the
worktop. I did my laundry on a daily basis, using either small buckets or
two baby baths on a table outside. Usually it was just undies
Looking to the future, when I have a tiny house of my own, all and a teeshirt. Every couple of days there was a pair of shorts
of these items could run directly off 12V DC. and a nightshirt. Once a week: bedding and my towels, both
• The cookstove was connected to the mains electric- swimming and bath, staggered so there wouldn’t be a stag-
ity and to its off-grid gas bottle. gering amount on any one day. I used cold water and a bar of
• Hidrofors: the electric pump supplying water from plain laundry soap, being sensitive to multiple chemicals. The
the rainfed cistern to the various points of use. I’ve clothes were clean and smelled wonderful after drying in the
used solar-powered 12V DC pumps before, so I know sun. I didn’t iron anything. Hanging laundry soaking wet erases
this can be done off-grid. most wrinkles. Vigorous shaking after taking them off the line
takes care of the rest. I thoroughly enjoyed the laundering
I cooked my main meals in my process too. I worked in the shade, listening to the birds, tick-
solar oven. It doesn’t get hot led by the breeze, watching
enough for breads, and it takes my green-gloved hands
four hours to boil water. So I knead through the laundry.
made Turkish coffee and Two one-gallon buckets of
boiled water for tea on one of water was all that it took on
the gas rings of the stove. an everyday basis, and that
Meats, vegetables, and rice water went directly into the
are properly cooked, and very tasty when done in the solar garden. Even on a sheets
oven. One needs very little or no liquid, so all the flavours stay day, the whole process took only half an hour, and six buckets
in the dish. I fried my breakfast eggs in the solar oven, and of water. Nothing’s filthy, after all, and bar soap is much easier
they too were delicious, with a velvety texture that has to be to rinse out than the laundry detergents I’ve encountered.
experienced to be understood. All of this, of course, meant The most arduous part of the job was carrying buckets of
that I needed very little bottled gas. water from the bathroom.
Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 13

My tiny house will have taps outside, supplying a large shal- keep the freezer going for the meat, it was easiest to pop my
low porcelain laboratory sink. perishables into the fridge and made fuller use of the electric-
ity. Still, I had to try!
I heated water for dishes in a black
beer can sitting inside a plastic coke Lacking clay flower-
bottle (water pasteurizer). It gets hot pots, I took part of the
enough to scald an unwary finger. plastic vegetable rack.
This was plain old luxury; seeing I I lined it with two thick
cooked in the solar oven; there was terry dishcloths soaked
very little grease to contend with, and in cool water and only
cold water would do the job just fine. lightly squeezed. On
But there we are, a little luxury doesn’t hurt, and I felt very this I placed the butter,
clever whenever I glugged that pint of very hot water into my in its foil wrap, eggs in
bright yellow bowl! one of the plastic egg holders from the fridge, cheese, and the
milk. I put the milk into an enamel mug, and covered that with
Also in the spirit of practicing for tiny house living, I moved another damp cloth. Then I covered the whole thing with a
my bed into the living room where it served also as my couch wet clean dishtowel. The veggie rack went into a plastic tray
and daybed. I needed very few clothes here; three pairs of to catch any drips. I put the whole thing on top of the fridge to
shorts, five teeshirts, undies and flipflops were adequate. So I foil Ishtar, the scrawny black cat who took possession of me
rolled the garments like crepes and put them in two shelves of during my sojourn. It wasn’t the ideal position, as it didn’t get
a vegetable rack, with my meds – contact lens supplies and the good breeze from the window, but it was better than hav-
suchlike – in another, the top one. This was tucked in at the ing Ishtar’s claws and teeth in everything all the time. The
bed end of the long narrow table I used as a desk. At the butter was spreadable, but didn’t melt. Likewise the cheese
other end, I had a wheeled plastic table on which I stored my was soft, but not oily. The milk was okay, cool, not cold. The
various papers and reference books. Besides these necessi- eggs stayed fresh; they come in tens, and I used two a day.
ties, the room contains a large dresser that holds crockery, a However, I was always a little uneasy about the milk, and I’ll
dining table, three chairs, and the table with the TV and radio have to have a small Sundanzer freezer for my tiny house.
on it. There is no substitute, and even I can eat only so much salted
meat. My in-laws left me piles of delicious smoked meats, but
Leading off from this is the kitchen and next to this is the I discovered that I do have limits. I could freeze bottles of
bathroom. Between these three rooms, I had more than enough water in a Sundanzer, and use them in a small ice chest for
space, some 424 square feet. I could definitely manage with my milk, cheese, butter and eggs.
less, were it configured differently.
My Sister-in-Law had
I managed to keep the house at a pleasant temperature by planted a vegetable garden
opening and closing doors, windows and shutters. At night, I which hit its peak in late Au-
threw the windows and shutters wide – and coated myself gust. Suddenly there was lit-
with mosquito repellent. During the day, windows stayed open, erally a bucketful of tomatoes
and I closed the shutters as the Earth rotated windows into every third day, and a bowl-
the direct rays of the sun. The back door stayed open all day ful of peppers.
as it faces north, and long into the night. The area I was living
in is the new part of the house, with thin cement block stuc-
coed walls. So I cheated: I opened the door into the old part of
the house, where the stone walls are two feet thick. This was I could not bear to let this go
a well of cool air which pushed the warmer air out of the new to waste – and everybody
part of the house. The temperature in the kitchen, which faces else has bounteous gardens
west, stayed between 24 and 26 degrees C throughout the 24 too, so I literally couldn’t even
hours. give the veggies away.

Refrigeration was a big thing. On a daily basis, milk, butter,

cheese, and eggs needed to be kept cool. Seeing that I had to
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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 14

I chopped a bucketful of tomatoes into a roasting pan and We keep the ritual alive, as well as the Afrikaner custom of
arranged it within the solar using some of the early fermenting wine to make sweet buns
oven to catch the sun. I’d which are dried into rusks (mosbolletjies).
found a damaged mirror in the
store room, which I cleaned However, I wouldn’t at all mind using the alcohol as fuel.
and angled to reflect as much Given that alcohol distils off at low temperatures (78°C/173°F),
sun as possible down into the I could set up a solar still, which would cut out the energy
tomatoes. input cost. The only reason we store the skins so long is be-
cause we’re going to need additional heat at the turn of the
I took my two sheets of dam- year. Living here though, the skins could go from the wine vat
aged glass from the old medi- into the still, in October when the sun is still sufficiently in-
cine cabinet and balanced them tense to do the job. Right? And as alcohol does not freeze at
around the pan. The photograph water-freezing temperatures and I’ve already decided on a
makes it all clear, including the Sundanzer freezer, bottles of hooch could go into the freezer
hi-tech weights on the glass! for a couple of hours and the pure fuel poured off.
And then I simply left it alone,
stirring when I remembered There’s baking to be thought of; bread-making is one of my
throughout the day. The house favourite activities. I made a different design of solar oven,
stayed cool, and so did I. When the pulp was thick enough to which is supposed to get much hotter. I’ll test that. But again
bottle, I brought it to a galloping boil on the gas stove, added a for rainy or dark days, I will need a back-up. I’m thinking of
half cup of apple vinegar to ensure that the acidity level would using a Coleman camp oven heated by a couple of rakija
be high enough, and poured it into the sterilized mayonnaise stovelets, or maybe even a two burner boat stove – these
jars – preheated in the solar oven. Before putting on the lids, come in alcohol-fuelled variants. I love the idea of being able
I poured an inch of olive oil over the pulp as an additional to fold up the oven and put it away when not needed, and am
safeguard, to exclude air. particularly in love with the idea of being able to wash it in the
sink instead of going through the usual Hansel and Gretel per-
Peppers were sliced into formance. A portable oven could be used with a Midge stove,
eighths and sundried, to- or over a barbecue unit.
gether with the paste toma-
toes. Some went into a jam It’s really wrenching to leave Šipan, but I have the challenge
jar and were covered with now of finding ways to lessen my grid dependence in San
olive oil, others were simply Francisco. And I will be returning to my Adriatic island rela-
stored in plastic ziplock bags. tively soon, to build a little house that will be energy self-
I’ll be in San Francisco for several months, so this will be a
good test of the keeping qualities of my preserves. Suzanne Ubick

Thinking forward to the little house, the only issue still to be

tackled is that of quick heat for making coffee, and for cook-
ing indoors when the weather does not cooperate. Before
leaving San Francisco, I bought this cute little alcohol stove
made from a soda can, and tested it out. It works, and uses
amazingly little fuel. The Dear Husband and I make a few
gallons of wine every year, and after pressing the grapeskins
we store them up in a vat, where they continue to ferment
slowly. In late December or early January, when the weather’s
cold and additional heat is welcome in the house, we distil the
ethanol out of some of these skins. Thing is, we’re not drink-
ers! My Father-in-Law takes some of it and adds herbs and
raisins, but a pint of this lasts us over a year. It’s Mediterra-
nean tradition to make rakija after the wine, and then use the
grapeskins for compost – waste not, want not!
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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 15


Dan Fink
Now that my 3-part series on wind turbines is done, I’m taking the time to answer some renew-
able energy questions that arrive via email. You can send your questions to
Please don’t worry if your question sounds too basic or too ‘dumb.’ ‘Dumb’ questions are often
the best ones for explaining wind turbine physics, and remember the old adage: “There are no
dumb questions – only dumb answers!”

Hello Mr. Windbag: Hello Mr. Alam:

I am describing in shortly, if you think it is workable I will let you Your question is a good one, and gives me an opportunity to
know every details. explain some wind turbine theory too. Specifically, how wind
turbine alternators and generators must be matched to the size
In our country (Bangladesh) there are 450,000 person who are of the rotor and therefore incoming power.
engaged in RICKSHA DRIVING (a three wheel human driven 2
person cart) and earning their living cost. The short answer is, your idea would certainly work, but there’s
no way one human could generate 3 kW by pedaling. However,
In the capital Dhaka city there are 250,000 of this Ricksha. Our 6-10 humans pedaling together could do so.
Govt trying to reduce the quantity for many years as it becomes
a major problem for our traffic system but failed as there is no How does this relate to wind turbines? A big part of the ‘black
alternative job for them. magic’ of designing a wind turbine is matching the wind power
input to the power output by how the generator is sized de-
A ricksha driver drives avg. 12 Hr / day , driving 60 km and carry signed. A human trying to pedal a 3kW alternator would be
avg 200 Kg ( 2 person + Self weight + cart ). similar to putting 5 foot blades on on a 3kW wind turbine alter-
Their avg income less than 2 US$/day. nator that’s designed for 16 foot blades. The blades stall, be-
cause they don’t have enough power input from the wind to
Our vision is to involved them to create human electricity by move fast enough to make that amount of power. In the case of
small size low RPM turbine in the 3KW range . human power, the human would ‘stall’ and collapse from ex-
Please let us know your valued comments in this regards. haustion after a minute or two of pedaling.

Best Regards, This can be demonstrated in the shop with the alternator from
J.Alam a wind turbine mounted on the workbench. We use this
example all the time for folks that visit our wind turbine
research shop so they can feel the load ‘hands-on.’

The alternator for our homebrew 17 foot turbine spins very freely
when the power output wires are not connected to anything.
Voltage is being produced in this case, but voltage is only part
of the equation—there also needs to be a current flow for ‘work’
to be done. There is SOME ‘work’ being done by the human, but
it all goes into simply overcoming the extra friction losses in the
system. The alternator is very easy to spin by hand. Now, short
the alternator output wires – the alternator crashes to a stop
with a resounding ‘clang’ and big spark. This is a common emer-
gency shutdown system for wind turbines, and watching it
Copyright, Md Mahbubur R. Meenar
Reproduced with kind permission

Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 16

Now, a good question from Alma, from the Backwoods Home

Magazine discussion forums:
(no relation to Mr Alam who sent in the last letter!)

in action is a very convincing demonstration for the ad- What about those rotary vent things on top of the house
vice of “‘don’t shut down your turbine at high speed.” If that go round and round all day? We are in a position that
the alternator is connected instead to an battery, the re- we get a lot of wind. I don’t see why any number of
sistance is higher than the dead short from an emergency systems can’t be moving at the same time and the en-
shutdown. While it doesn’t clang to a stop when con- ergy combined and stored for small use.
nected, it slows down and stops within a couple seconds.
The force input needed to keep it spinning is directly re- Alma
lated to the power output.

Professional bicyclists measure their power output in

Watts with on-board computers. The leader of the pack
in the Tour de France is often putting out 500 watts for
short periods of time, while the cyclists behind have to
make a bit less due to reduced wind resistance. At the
1983 IHPV (International Human Powered Vehicle) Sci-
entific Symposium, Douglas Malewicki presented a pa-
per that graphs the time to exhaustion vs. power output
capability of normal, healthy humans and top-notch ath-
letes. According to his paper. a normal healthy human
could consistently make 120 Watts for about 5 hours. A
first-class athlete could do about 300 W for 5 hours.

I very much doubt that there are many pudgy, overweight

ricksha drivers in Bangladesh, and from your power out-
put figures they are very close to world-class athletes in
their physical stamina. But 300 watts is not a whole lot of Hi Alma. Your question gives me a good chance to explain
power, certainly not enough to make it worthwhile to feed why just because something is spinning doesn’t mean that
the grid with. However, could you have 10-20 ricksha you can make power from it.
drivers pedaling together? Then 3000 watts is a possibil- In the previous question, I mentioned about how Watts
ity, and the output could be fed to the grid via a grid-tied are a pretty good way to measure the force needed to
inverter, though the idea might be better for a more re- spin something. In the July 2005 issue of ESSN I also
mote community with limited power production capabil- talked about efficiency, and how no generator can be 100%
ity. efficient, due to friction and electrical losses. And because
of the Betz limit, no wind turbine can extract more than
This has been done – see issue #47 of Home Power 59.26 percent of the energy available in the wind. So, the
Magazine for information and photos of a multi-human basic concept here is that to make (let’s say) 100 watts of
pedal-powered generator running a PA system at a re- electricity from a generator, you need to spin it with MORE
newable energy fair. THAN 100 watts of force.

Good luck with your project! Let’s see what would happen if you connected a small
The Windbag generator to your spinning roof vent. If the generator
was attached, but the wires not hooked up, you’d be
adding a bit of friction to the system. It would take
slightly higher winds than before to spin your roof vent.

Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 17

From a High School student, sent to me via

There is now measurable voltage on the + and – leads of your
generator, but no actual ‘work’ is being done, because the wires
are not connected to a load. But now, connect a battery you Dear Mr. Windbag: I have an electric model train (author’s note:
want to charge to the generator. The roof vent will stop spin- or car, or airplane, or boat) that runs off batteries and I thought
ning immediately, unless the wind is VERY strong. Spin the roof that if I mounted a small wind turbine on top of it, the power
vent by hand, and you’ll feel extra physical resistance from coming in would help charge the batteries, so I’d get more bat-
your generator, because by connecting the generator you are tery life. Would this work?
asking it to perform ‘work,’ and the power coming in must be
provided by you, or the wind.
Sorry, it won’t work. As the train speeds up and the mounted
Now take a look at our drawing of a standard roof vent turbine, turbine starts making power, the extra drag on the train would
courtesy of roof vent manufacturer Lomanco. In the July 2005 increase too – and the extra power to overcome the extra drag
issue of the ESSN I also talked about swept area, and the blue would have to come out of the train’s batteries.
highlighted area shows the effective swept area of the roof No generator or alternator can get near 100% efficiency – 100%
vent turbine. The rest of the turbine is not helping power pro- means that the same amount of power being put into the sys-
duction, so the red highlighted part is actually working tem is being output at the other end. And, thanks to Betz (see
AGAINST your power production. For simplicity, I’m ignoring the July 2005 issue of the ESSN) the absolute maximum power
that factor in the math, and it will hurt turbine performance even conversion efficiency from a wind turbine would be 59.26%.
further. Friction and electrical losses compound the problem more. An
efficiency of 35% would be an excellent turbine design, and
Danger – Math ahead! By the high-tech measuring technique keep in mind that the train would have to get going quite fast
of placing my scale ruler on my computer monitor, I roughly for the turbine to even start making power.
calculate the effective swept area of this 12 inch diameter roof So let’s say you fly a tiny wind turbine on your train. The
vent to be about 32 square inches, or .0207 square meters. We’ll faster the train goes, the more power is produced, and the
use a coefficient of power (Cp) of 30 percent, which is highly more physical drag is put onto your battery powered train—it
optimistic for a blade design of this type in a wind speed of 15 has to work that much harder just to keep up its speed. Now
mph (6.71 meters per second). take the power output of the wind turbine – at most Cp=35% .
The Math!!! To simplify the math, let’s say the train has to push with 10
If: Watts extra power to go the same speed as normal. But the
• Cp = % efficiency of entire system turbine can only put 3.5 Watts back in, and 10-3.5=6.5. That’s
• Air density (rho) =1.23 kg/cubic meter at sea level 6.5 watts extra power being used. Your train batteries will be
• Swept area is in square meters drained MORE quickly, not less.
• Wind velocity is in meters per second
Then: It is different when the energy comes from a free source like
Expected power output (in Watts) = the wind. But when your ‘wind’ has to be generated via elec-
Cp * ½ * air density * swept area * wind velocity^3 tric power, you are in a losing situation. It seems like a model
So, inserting our values: plane in a dive (or an electric train going downhill) could have
Power output = 0.30 * 0.5 * 1.23 * 0.0207 * 6.71^3 some extra power available for your turbine – but the energy to
= 1.15 Watts output in a 15 mph wind. climb that hill or get to that altitude in the first place has al-
ready come out of batteries, and at most only 35% percent of it
So, you might be able to make the roof vent work as a genera- will be recovered via wind. It’s still a net loss that will drain
tor– but you’ll never get any more power than 1.15 Watts out of your batteries faster, not slower.
it—that’s about what a trickle charger for AA batteries would
make. Add that 1.15 Watts of extra drag onto the roof vent, and
it will stop spinning immediately, defeating the purpose of the
vent in the first place. It’s there to get a little bit of air moving
out of your attic, and the extra drag from trying to perform more
work by generating power will stop it—and you might end up Send your questions for the WindBag to
with a soggy attic! If you can stop something from spinning and they will be answered in
with your pinky, there’s not much power available for harvest ESSN as time and space permit.
there. Thanks.
The Windbag
The Windbag

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 18


Fourth in a series by Al Rutan,
the Methane Man
© Al Rutan 1992
First published in Home Power #30 • August / September 1992

Temperature is critical to the success of any methane opera- Capturing Warmth

tion if it is to be considered an energy system. If the primary Heat has to be considered as something that is very slippery.
concern is waste management and not energy production, then Conserving heat requires understanding insulation. We are
a net energy loss is not a major consideration. If the intent is fortunate that there are many types of insulation available
to produce energy, a net energy gain from the process is ev- now that simply did not exist a few decades back. On the
erything. other hand, there’s a general lack of understanding of insulat-
ing properties of common building materials such as wood,
Body Heat metal, and concrete. I recommend Movable Insulation, pub-
Methane activity, in one of its natural situations, is found in the lished by the Rodale Press in 1980.
digestive tract of warm blooded animals, people included. For
people, the normal body temperature is 98.6° F. In a chicken Anyone familiar with insulation knows that if it gets wet, it is
or pig it is 103° F. So right at 100° F is the ideal working no longer insulation. Some “closed cell” insulating materials
temperature for the methane process. To maintain this tem- such as urethane, styrofoam, and polyethylene foam are more
perature outside an animal is a problem if the ambient tem- impervious to moisture than cellulose or fiberglass insulation.
perature is cool or cold. Even closed cell materials can break down if moisture under
pressure is present.
Sewage Plants Energy Producers
There were several methane farm operations launched in the Styrofoam is used on the outside of the foundations to provide
upper midwest with much bravado and publicity. All of them a frost barrier for basements. Soil pressure and moisture can
are now out of business. On the other hand, sewage plants of cause the styrofoam to be less than “bone dry” and thereby
medium size still commonly use the process to treat toilet waste lose much of its insulating ability.
and destroy pathogens, but in each instance they consume
much more energy during the cold part of the year than they Situating the Tank
produce. The toilet water flowing into each sewage plant is My personal preference is that the methane tank be as effec-
ordinarily cold. It would be exceedingly difficult for sewage tively insulated as possible. Insulation should be below the
plants to be anything but energy users rather than producers flow line of the material entering the tank, but should not be
at any time except in the hottest part of the summer. buried in the dirt, regardless of
the insulation. The temperature
Universities’ verdicts at the end of the methane studies were of the ground several feet be-
always the same: “It’s possible, but it isn’t practical. It takes low the surface stays quite con-
more energy to run the system than the system can provide.” stant at 50° F – 55° F. To the
In harnessing methane as an energy system, it is important to methane tank, the earth is a
conserve heat in the process of producing gas. A few years “heat sink”, a cool mass al-
ago a new sewage plant was built at St. Cloud, Minnesota to ways ready to absorb its heat.
the tune of 17 million dollars. I asked the engineer, “Did you The best way to fight this heat
insulate the tank?” He said, “Oh yes. The old one used to sink is to insulate the tank and build it above the ground. An-
actually freeze on the north side during the winter.” My next other good reason for a free-standing tank is access to the
question was, “Did you run the insulation into the ground?” grit trap at the bottom. A free-standing tank should be cov-
His reply, “No. The ground never gets cold.” My reply was, ered with six to eight inches of high quality insulation. Various
“That’s right, but it never gets warm either.” This sewage people have asked if a buried tank would work. I can’t say
plant burned $750,000 a year in fuel oil to keep the digester at that it won’t, but I’ve never seen any that work in a cold
100° F. It costs big bucks to flush the toilet in St. Cloud. climate, and I have seen several that don’t.
Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 19

Restoring Warmth How Much Gas Can I Get?

When feces leaves the body, the waste is at exactly the right There’s a wide range of mixes of material you feed a meth-
temperature for working within the methane digester. What- ane digester. It’s similar to what happens when we eat. Some
ever heat is lost in the interval between leaving the animal and of the material enters our system to maintain it and some of it
entering the digester has to be restored. If the heat needed is passes on as waste. When manure is considered, all of it,
significant, there needs to be a heat source available with an minus the water, is designated as “total solids”, and the part
abundance of “free” energy, such as solar or wind. that is digestible to the bacteria is labeled “volatile solids”.
The numbers of what is and what isn’t available for gas pro-
Relation to Fermentation duction have been gathered repeatedly over the years. Each
The methane process is a type of fermentation. Most folks account is quick to qualify any statement by saying that there
have baked bread or made homebrew beer or wine at one is any number of variables when dealing with animals regard-
time or another. For instance, after a yeast dough is kneaded, ing what they are eating and how they are housed. One of the
it is put in a warm place free of draft and allowed to rise. A clearest reference sources is a newsletter printed in 1973 by
draft could produce cooling. The yeast organisms feed upon the New Alchemy Institute in California. Their figures corre-
the mixture’s sugar. This produces carbon dioxide bubbles, spond to what I’ve experienced.
which cause the dough to rise. There is a similar activity within
the methane tank. The methane organisms feed upon simple The numbers run like this: a cow drops an average of 52 lbs.
sugars, alcohols, and peptides produced by acid forming bac- of feces a day, of which about 10 pounds are solids, the rest
teria. Methane gas, CH 4 , is the result. being water. Of the 10 pounds of solids, 80% or 8 lbs. are
volatile—can be turned into gas. A horse produces an aver-
I’ve been asked if the digestion process within the tank doesn’t age of 36 pounds of feces a day, of which 5.5 lbs. are volatile
produce some heat, such as the heat produced in a compost solids. A pig produces 7.5 lbs. per day of which 0.4 pounds
pile. It probably does. Because the metabolic activity is so are volatile solids. A human produces 0.5 pounds of feces a
diluted and spread out within the tank, the heat available is day of which 0.13 pounds is volatile solid. Chickens produce
minimal in comparison to the target temperature. 0.3 pounds a day which 0.06 pounds is a volatile solid.

Awareness is Essential
You’ll need to know how hot the tank is, day to day, season to
season. To eliminate the guesswork, install sensors both in-
side the tank and outside the tank. Record temperature both
inside and outside the tank over a period of time. Then you
will know how efficiently the tank is retaining heat, at what
rate the temperature drops when no heat is added, and how
much energy is needed to raise the temperature. If this is
done, then a reliable calculation can be made of how much
gas is needed to maintain working temperature if “free” heat All of this is good information, but it still doesn’t tell us how
is not available. much gas we can reasonably expect. If you ask an “expert”
in the field, you’ll get an answer something like, “It all de-
Producing methane gas is relatively easy. The conservation pends...” All manure contains a degree of nitrogen, but be-
of heat more than any other factor determines whether a cause nitrogen exists in so many chemical forms in nature—
methane system will “fly” or not. Of all the systems I’ve seen ammonia (NH3 ), nitrates (NO3 ), proteins, etc.—it’s difficult
that failed, the principal reason is improper handling of heat. to test the total amount of nitrogen in a given material.

Care and Feeding of your Methane Digester Why Consider Nitrogen?

Having thought about temperature, we can turn our attention The process wants one part nitrogen to every 30 parts of
to feedstock. I work with a mixture of manure and vegeta- carbon. Manure is nitrogen rich, averaging about 15 parts
tion. Sometimes the question is asked: can’t one use just veg- carbon for each part nitrogen, so all the studies show that gas
etation to produce methane? It can be done because Mother production is substantially increased by including some car-
Nature does. Swamp gas burning over a marsh is just that. bon material along with the manure. The nitrogen proportion
Because the methane bacteria are part of the “flora and fauna” may be even higher in animal waste if urine is included with
of the digestive tract, every time there is a fresh deposit, there the feces because urination is the principle way an animal rids
is fresh input of the microbiological organisms needed. itself of excess nitrogen. Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 20

To illustrate, straight chicken manure will produce only five Wouldn’t it be nice if we could separate out the methane and
cubic feet of gas for each pound of manure, but chicken ma- dump the carbon dioxide. Interestingly enough, Mother Na-
nure mixed with paper pulp will produce eight cubic feet of ture has made it very easy to do just that because these gases
gas for each pound of manure used. My experience was an all have different specific gravity weights.
outstanding ten cubic feet of gas for each pound of chicken
manure when the manure contained some ground feed that How to Get Pure Methane
had been spilled. The specific gravity of methane is about 0.55 in relation to the
weight of air, so it rises, as does hydrogen. Carbon dioxide on
Cow manure will produce only 1.5 cubic feet of gas per pound, the other hand is twice the weight of air. Within a vertical gas
but cow manure mixed with grass clippings will produce 4.5 container, if the gases are allowed to settle, they will naturally
cubic feet of gas per pound of manure. separate themselves, the flammable gases rise to the top. This
fact suggests that a good design should have a petcock at the
The Nature of Biogas bottom of a vertical gas holder. Use it to bleed off the accu-
Assume that we have a gas producing system and it’s making mulated carbon dioxide. In the right setting, this isn’t environ-
gas nicely and filling the gas holder. What do we actually mentally harmful, because the trees and growing things around
have? It’s important to understand that it isn’t all methane. A the yard will welcome a fresh sniff of carbon dioxide.
proportion of it is carbon dioxide, produced by the acid form-
ing bacteria, which doesn’t burn. This fact isn’t immediately
evident because if one ignites the end of a hose coming from
the gas holder, there is a blue flame.

The fact that is important to know is: if we had pure methane

we would have a hotter flame—about 1000 BTU (British Ther-
mal Unit) for each cubic foot of gas. With the dilution of car-
bon dioxide, we have roughly 600 BTU for each cubic foot of

The composition of the gas in our gas holder will be:

CH4 methane: 54 – 70%
CO2 carbon dioxide: 27 – 45% Al Rutan
N2 nitrogen: 0.5 – 3%
H2 hydrogen: 1 – 10%
CO carbon monoxide: 0.1%
O2 oxygen: 0.1%
H2S hydrogen sulfide: trace


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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 21


By Thomas Ogren

I flat out love growing fruit trees and have Fruit From Cuttings
been crazy about them all my life— or at Some fruit is so easy to propagate I al-
least, as much of my life as I can remem- ways wonder why everyone doesn’t try
ber. Actually, the very first thing I can it. Grapes, figs, mulberries, and pomegran-
clearly recall involved fruit trees. ates are all easy to grow from directly
stuck cuttings. I cut off a piece of dor-
I was about three, possibly four years old. mant wood, 12-18 inches long, and I bury
It was a warm, lazy spring weekend and almost all of it in the ground where I want
my older sisters were gone somewhere it to grow. I leave at least one good bud
with my mom, but my dad was home, above ground. Sometimes to insure a bet-
working in the garage. I wasn’t allowed ter take, I’ll stick five or six such cuttings
to cross the street by myself, but down the block, across the in the same spot. If they all grow, then the next winter I dig up
street, was a beautiful pineapple guava tree growing in the the extra ones and give them to friends. I use cutting wood
middle of some grouchy old man’s lawn (Paste-up note: this that grew last year and find that wood that is about pencil
grouchy old man in New Zealand calls them Feijoas!). The thickness or somewhat thicker roots the best.
tree had a huge crop of large, green, totally delicious fruit, but
the owner wouldn’t let any of us kids pick guavas from his I recently accidentally dis-
tree, much less climb it. He claimed that we would break the covered a way to get plum
branches. He would however let us have fruit that fell on the wood to root for me. I
ground, but these guavas were generally too soft and mushy. used a long whip of plum
branch (dormant wood) as
That day I walked down the street by all by myself, seeing no a stake in a one-gallon pot
adults or even any other kids around. I looked at that tree and of some fancy gold heart
dashed across the street. The old man was nowhere around ivy. To my surprise the
and I climbed up his guava tree and started stuffing big, fat plum wood rooted and
guavas in all my pockets. I picked as many as my pockets started to grow the next
could hold and climbing back down I did indeed break a few spring. I now do this on pur-
small branches. pose, using plum wood that
is from last year’s vigorous
Looking both ways (of course!) I ran back across the street growth. I select plum whips 2 to 3 foot long, with no branch-
with my loot. Back at home I found my dad still in the garage ing on them, and stick each one all the way down into the
and I showed him my stash, expecting him to yell at me for center of a gallon pot of some well-rooted perennial flowers
crossing the street. But dad never did make the connection or herbs. A surprising number of these plums grow, and since
and thus my first episode of crime was all in all, a total suc- they are “on their own root,” they don’t need to be budded or
cess. grafted. Try it.

Some fifty years later I now have five guava trees growing in
my own yard, all grown from seed. I also have many other
fruit trees, all of them homegrown ones.
Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 22

From Seed The scions are then tapped into place in the split seedling (the
I have a spot in my back- rootstock), making sure that the cambiums of both scion and
yard next to my compost rootstock match on at least one side. The cambium is the thin
heap, and here I toss any green layer of wood that is just inside the outer bark. To keep
and all old pits from plums, your work from drying out, cover the entire finished graft
apricots, peaches, and nec- with a thick coating of grafting tar or grafting wax. I also put
tarines. I toss apple and a dab of the tar or wax directly on the exposed cut tip of the
pear seeds in here too. At scion. Be careful as you do this, not to knock the scion out of
the end of the summer I contact with the rootstock cambium.
shake an inch or so of old
compost over the area and Now, unless a kid, bird, or a cat bangs into this graft and
see what grows. Since I do knocks the scion askew, if you did it right, come spring time
this every year, I always have a ready supply of seedlings the scion will sprout and grow. Voila! You’ve got a grafted
each year. fruit tree.

In the winter months, or in the very early spring months if you You can graft peach onto al-
live in a zone 4-7 area, dig up some of these year-old seed- mond, apricot, plum, peach or
lings, bare root, and pot them up one to each one gallon pot. I nectarine rootstock, and visa
use a 50-50 mix of potting soil and garden dirt. versa. For sandy soils peach
or nectarine make the best
I then water the pots, set the rootstocks, but for heavy clay
potted seedling on a table, clip soils, plum is by far the best.
off most of the top, leaving 4-6 Apples can be grafted on apple
inches of trunk above ground, seedlings as can pears. Pear
and then cleft graft the seedling. can also be grafted on apple
Cleft grafting is, I think, the easi- stock. If so inclined, scion
est method and it works well with wood from quince can also be grafted onto apple or pear. An
apricot, peach, plum, nectarine, apple or pear grafted onto a quince rootstock will be a dwarfed
quince, apples and pears. I use tree. If your soil is clay, a pear rootstock grows best. If sandy
a thin bladed knife and tap it (tap- or loamy, apple is preferred.
ping the back of the knife blade
with a small hammer or a piece I grow these new fruit trees on in the gallon pots for a year,
of wood) directly into the center making sure to cut off any sucker wood that arises from be-
of the cut seedling, going down low the graft. Keep them well fertilized and watered and they
only about one inch. I cut scion will often grow 3-5 feet in one summer’s time. The next year
wood (whatever you want to convert your seedling to) that is either plant them or give them away to friends.
from last year’s growth. I like to use scion wood that has a
diameter that is slightly
smaller than the diameter of Bark Scion If you have a potted fruit tree seedling where the graft fails to
the seedling I’m going to Cambium
take, simply cut off the unsuccessful grafted part. You can re-
graft it to. The grafts, or sci- graft it the next dormant season. If you have year old seed-
ons, should be about 3 to 4 Bark lings left in the ground that you won’t get around to digging
inches long and each should Wood and grafting, consider chopping them off just above the ground
have several good, dormant in the late fall. The next spring these seedlings will grow up
buds. The scions can be cut with multiple trunks. The next winter dig your second-year
to shape with a sharp pock- seedlings with multiple trunks, thin them back to the strongest
etknife. Try to get your sci- 2 or 3 stems, and then cleft graft each of the stems to some-
ons cut smoothly, with a thing different. I have made many three-in-one trees this way,
gradual taper. part plum, part apricot, and part nectarine.

Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 23

These make extra nice presents. You can of course just as If you are lucky enough to know an old gardener who knows
easily graft each branch to a different cultivar of the same how to graft, ask him or her to show you how to cut your
species, such as three different kinds of plum on the same scions. A little practice always helps as does a sharp knife.
rootstock. A tree like this is often very fruitful, since it will
cross-pollinate itself. There are many books with drawings of cleft grafts and these
too can be used as guides. It may sound a tad snobby, but
Budding once you can graft your own fruit trees, you join a rather
Just a little here on budding. In zones 3-8 most budding is select group. Almost all gardeners know what grafting is, but
done in May,. June or early July. The easiest method is shield not that many actually know how to do it right.
One last thought: cleft grafting is also easy to do on existing
dormant fruit trees. There is no reason you can’t graft some
different varieties on each of your trees. I have an apple tree
with about a dozen kinds of apples on it and a pear tree that
has five kinds of pear, plus quince and apple growing on it. I
also have almonds growing on one branch of a plum tree, four
kinds of plums on another tree, and both plum and nectarine
on the apricot tree in my front yard. I have five kinds of roses
budded on the climbing rose that grows on my front porch. I
A T cut is made on the rootstock stem, cutting through the guess my plants are all mixed up, but then, what can you
outer bark and the cambium, down to the hardwood.. Next expect from an old guava thief?
you cut a thin, shield-shaped slice of wood (from scion wood
of the cultivar you wish to bud), containing one dormant bud. Thomas Ogren
This shield will be about 3/4th of an inch long. This bud is then
inserted in the T cut under the bark of the seedling rootstock.
I use thin, clear plastic tie tape to wrap the bud up tightly. I
will sometimes cut a tiny slice in the middle of the tape and
wrap the tape over the tip of the bud itself, which should just
peak out of the sliced portion of the tape. The tape serves to
keep the bud in close contact with the rootstock and also to
keep the bud graft from drying out.

Keep an eye on the budded stem for several weeks and by

then if the bud and the shield are still plump and green, con-
sider it a take. Cut off the rest of the stem half an inch above
the new bud graft, and this will force the new bud.

Budding is not quite as easy to do as grafting, at least not at

first. It has several advantages though. You can bud when the
weather is nice and if the bud doesn’t take, you can try it all
over again in a different spot. Budding is easiest on thicker

I find that for me I have the

best luck budding roses,
apples, pears and apricots.
Plums can be a little trickier.
Cherries, by the way, are con-
siderably more difficult to
graft and bud than are the
other stone fruits.

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 24


By Mike Nixon

Those of you who have nothing better to do than follow my The Reflux Column
boring articles will know that it’s now time to think about what A “reflux” column is simply
sort of equipment you need in order to distil the ferment that a long, vertical pipe which
you have prepared. You may also have taken steps to get has been packed with porous
yourself registered as an approved ethanol distiller, although if material that lets vapor
you haven’t done so yet, don’t worry. You are perfectly en- through, but which also pro-
titled under every law I’ve heard of to own a still – you just vides a large surface onto
can’t use it to distil ethanol if you are unregistered! Please which condensing vapor can
don’t imagine that you will be able to duck under the radar settle and be held when it
horizon and distil ethanol for fuel without such a licence, for condenses. I’ll describe what
the quantities that make this a practical proposition will be too sort of material you need a
big to easily hide. little later, but first would like
to say why such material is
Right, my legal duties discharged, let’s get down to designs. needed – and for that I need
to go back and quickly de-
A pot still scribe the basic principle of
The simplest type of still separation of liquids by distil-
is called a “pot still”. lation.
This is just a boiler with
a spout on top through Now that took two whole
which the generated chapters in the book that my
vapor can flow on its colleague Mike McCaw and
way directly to some I wrote (The Compleat Dis-
sort of condenser. tiller), but can be summarized
You’ve probably all seen pictures of the pot stills used during for our purposes here in just
the American prohibition days, often flanked by scruffy un- three short paragraphs. Reflux Still
shaven guys with a mean look in their eyes – a bit like me in
fact! If you take a mixture of liquids – for example water with
ethanol and a whole bunch of other alcohols and liquid sub-
Thay’s all you need know about pot stills, for as far as making stances – then the composition of the vapor you get from that
ethanol for fuel they are a waste of time. You may recall that mixture when you boil it will be quite different to the compo-
the ethanol you need for an engine designed to use it as fuel sition of the mixture it came from. The reason lies in the fact
must have less than 15% water, and if intended for blending that the vast majority of pure liquids (not mixed with anything
with gasoline or diesel then only a fraction of a percent water else) have distinct boiling points. Water boils at 1000C (2120F)
can be tolerated. A pot still will achieve neither of these tar- under standard atmospheric pressure (we don’t need to get
gets. It won’t come even close! into what this is in all the different units that are used – just
think of a ‘nice day’). In contrast, pure ethanol boils at 78.30C
So what you need is some sort of still that will get rid of as (1730F). A mixture of water and ethanol will boil somewhere
much water as possible, and for that you need what is called in between, depending on the mix.
a “reflux” or “fractionating” column.

Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 25

Now if you boil such a mixture, say one part by volume of Flooding occurs when so much liquid reflux is on its way down
ethanol to 9 parts water (10% alcohol by volume = 10%abv), that it takes up most of the room in the column and vapor
then the vapor you first get off will have much more ethanol can’t get through. You end up with a solid plug of liquid that
in it than that original mix. It could be up to around 70-80%abv. causes the pressure in the boiler to build up until something
Now some may be nodding their heads wisely and saying gives way. If you’re lucky, then then you can invite your
that’s obvious because ethanol, having a lower boiling point, neighbors round to admire your own mini version of Old Faith-
will boil off first. Sorry, O Wise Ones – that’s absolute rub- ful. If it’s been a bad hair day, then you will get a pressure
bish! Both ethanol and water will boil off at the same time, explosion!
but in different proportions. Want to know why? Buy the
dratted book! Avalanching usually preceeds flooding, and it occurs when
liquid that has been held on the packing starts to join forces
The end result of boiling is therefore to produce a vapor in with other droplets to form a river of liquid down a preferred
which the proportions of the most volatile substances (lowest path in the packing, and the bigger the river, the faster it will
boiling points) are greater than they were in the original mix. move and the more liquid it will pick up on its way. The end
Condense that vapor and boil it again, and the same thing result is that all that liquid you relied on to be held in place to
happens – the proportions change yet again in favor of the be re-boiled and produce richer vapor will be hell-bent on
most volatile substances. Keep doing that with water and avalanching back down to the boiler. Net result at the prod-
ethanol and you will end up with a liquid that is mostly ethanol. uct end – zilch!
In short, you have separated the ethanol out of the original
mix by means of distillation. Packing and Vapor Speed
Flooding and avalanching can be avoided if you choose a pack-
And this is where that packing material comes in. Pass a hot ing material that has the right surface to volume occupied
vapor through that material and it will condense and settle on ratio, and if you keep the vapor speed to defined limits.
the packing when it gets to a higher, cooler part of the col-
umn. As more vapor condenses, it releases the heat that it The surface to volume ratio (SVR) of packing is simply the
took to produce it in the boiler, and this heat is passed immedi- amount of surface area that packing offers compared to the
ately to the previously condensed liquid and causes it to boil. total volume it occupies. Spheres, like marbles, have the low-
Result – vapor with an even higher proportion of ethanol! est ratio of all shapes, which is why bubbles are spherical
This repeats over and over again as you go up the column, when undisturbed. Now it may seem easy to calculate the
and the condensed liquid and the vapor that’s boiled off gets SVR as 4.Pi.R2 divided by 4/3.Pi.R3, to give 3/R, but that
richer and richer in ethanol. By the time you reach the top, would be wrong! If you fill a container with marbles all the
most of the water left behind on the packing will have built up same size, then they settle
and formed large droplets that move back down in the oppo- down into a pattern known
site direction – finally ending up in the boiler again. Because by eggheads as “random
it’s moving back against the general movement of vapor ris- close packing”. Given
ing in the column, this condensed liquid is called reflux (that enough shaking, the ratio of
which moves backwards), and a tube packed with such ma- the volume of the marbles
terial is called a “reflux column”. to the volume they occupy
will be about 0.64. How-
Reflux Columns – the Good and the Ugly ever, Johannes Kepler
It should be fairly obvious by now that the longer the column, (1571-1630) calculated that
and the more packing it contains, the better the column should a packing density of
work. That’s true up to a point, but that same reasoning can Pi/180.5 = 0.74 could be achieved. This has been proved by
lead to some ugly results. The first of these is that it can lead experiment in the space shuttle and, as a demonstration of
to the need to knock a hole in the ceiling if the column is to be how difficult the math can be, it wasn’t until 2000 that Sal
tall enough to yield a high strength product. Torquato, a professor at Princeton University, proved that
The other is that if you don’t Kepler was right – and that there’s a lot of skill in a game of
pick the right sort of pack- marbles! Anyway, on a more practical front, marbles 1cm in
ing, then you can end up with diameter and packed “normally” will have a SVR of 3.6, ris-
nothing! You get either ing to 7.2 when the diameter shrinks to 0.5cm. Compare that
“flooding” or “avalanching”. to metal mesh which can have a ratio of up to 40!
Continued on next page

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 26

As for vapor speed, experiment has shown that the maximum for blending with gasoline or diesel,
speed through a column before adding packing should be no or for making biodiesel (see last
more than 20 inches/sec. The packing takes up space, so the month’s ethanol article, and Steve
speed will rise beyond that, but empty-column speed is a good, Spence’s articles on biodiesel).
practical design parameter to use together with the SVR of
the packing. The reason? Simple: if the vapor shoots though In practice, this simple addition to
too quickly then there’s no time for it to condense. If it’s too an ordinary reflux column will as-
slow, then you can reach a point where nothing gets to the sure delivery of high strength etha-
top. The ideal empty tube speed turns out to be around 10 to nol, albeit at a slower rate than a
15 inches/second, and that speed is controlled by the power simple reflux still. Why slower?
you put into the boiler. Well, if you reduce the amount of
forced reflux at the top to less than
90% of all that’s condensed there,
Beyond the Reflux Column the strength goes down as the num-
A well packed reflux column, about yard long and 2 inches in ber of recycling operations is dras-
diameter (oh, alright – one meter and 5cm), fed from a 1.5 tically reduced. You are therefore
kW boiler containing a 10-12%abv ferment or “wash”, will limited to drawing off at only 10%
give a product that contains around 85%abv. Now that’s fine of the speed you would take from a
if you are satisfied with the bottom limit of strength when plain reflux still. However, the ad-
running an ethanol fuelled engine. The nice thing too is that vantages are considerable – you not
you don’t have to worry about any other volatiles staying in, only get the strongest ethanol pos-
unlike those whose aim is to make potable ethanol. However, sible, but you can also limit the length
if you want to blend with gasoline or diesel then it’s just not of the column! Easier than cutting
good enough. that hole in the ceiling!

What you need is a “forced reflux” or “Compound” still.

Compound Stills
Just suppose you put a condenser on Fuel still under development

top of the reflux column and return Now what I’ve described in these articles is what’s behind
the vapor that reaches the top back making ethanol for fuel, and it’s only a start. Our Noble Edi-
to the column as condensed liquid, tor refuses point blank to letting me fill the whole of each
or reflux. What happens is that you issue of ESSN with this Worthy Subject, so sadly I must point
are forcing the vapor to go through you elsewhere if you want to progress beyond a simple batch
another cycle of condensation and system that you can make yourself, to a continuosly operating
boiling, so the ethanol strength goes still that churns out ethanol fuel for as long as you feed it. You
up. But you are doing this continu- may agree with me that this shows a petty small-mindedness
ously, for what you’ve set up at the on the part of the aforesaid Noble Editor, but I can assure you
top of the column is a closed cycle! that he has many endearing qualities that more than make up
After a short while, and hundreds of for that (G). You may also wonder how I can get away with
cycles of that cloosed loop, it’s not remarks like that – to which I blithely reply that it’s one of the
surprising that you will end up with perks of being the guy who does the paste-up to get ESSN on
vapor at the top of the column that’s the stands. It makes for a strong union of one!
as rich in ethanol as you can get – Compound Still
around 95-96%abv. You cannot get any further than that un- If your interest has been sparked, then drop me a line, for my
der normal atmospheric pressure as ethanol and water have a colleague Mike McCaw and I are right in the middle of devel-
nasty little trick of forming an Azeotrope – a mixture that is oping a new design of continuous flow fuel still that is aimed
stable at a particular concentration of ethanol. However, you specifically at the growing number of people who are inter-
are well on your way now to drawing off a product that is, ested in being energy self suffient!
say, 95%abv ethanol, and that will work just fine in an ethanol
burning engine, and needs only a little drying to get close enough Mike Nixon
to anhydrous ethanol which can be used

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 27

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Back to Contents Page 27 << || >>

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 28

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Back to Contents Page 28 << || >>

<< >>

October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 29

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October, 2005 Energy Self Sufficiency Newsletter Page 30

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lication is free and unlimited printing and distri-
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bution is encouraged for the benefit of the re- Monthly circulation of ESSN, measured by downloads
newable energy community. All contents are of the PDF and HTML files, continues to rise and now
Copyright 2005 by Rebel Wolf Energy Systems. stands at over 23,500!!! As the word of our existence
Please contact us for reprint permission. All spreads, and our content increases, we will continue to
printed copies and electronic distribution must share our experiences (and yours) in off-grid living and
contain the entire publication including this no- energy self-sufficiency with folks around the world.
tice. Thanks for your interest and your support. ldb
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